With an estimated population of 4,023,132 in 2009 Maricopa County is easily the most populous county in Arizona. Yet, the residents of Maricopa County (MC) are governed by just five “supervisors” who are each elected from one of five districts. MC also has the following elected offices that are semi-autonomous from the Board of Supervisors (BOS): Sheriff, County Attorney, Superintendent of Schools, various Constables, Assessor, Recorder, Treasurer and Clerk of Court. Each of these offices is semi-autonomous in that their general budgets must be approved by the BOS and they must follow general policies put forth by the BOS.
Many counties around the nation have this type of governmental set-up, but none of them have the expensive and crippling dysfunction that is Maricopa County. In the past few years we have had Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas declared open war on the BOS, the judiciary, the media, civil activists, the Arizona Attorney General and of course, illegal immigrants. The County Treasurer has sued the BOS to restore funding. The BOS stripped the County Attorney’s office of its civil division (this is the unit that is supposed to act as the BOS’s lawyers). The BOS has conducted electronic listening device sweeps. The Sheriff’s office has seized a joint computer system. The Maricopa County jails have lost accreditation. The list goes on and on.
Maricopa County, in short, is poorly managed at best and criminally managed at worst. I conservatively estimate that when the dust settles and this war is officially declared over, the tax payers of Maricopa County will have spent over $100 million. That figure doesn’t include the over $40 million already paid out on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office to settle wrongful death and other lawsuits since Sheriff Arpaio took office.
We have a problem in Maricopa County and it is not just the people who have been elected to office, it is the very structure of that county government. In part three of this series I will provide my solution to deal the structural defect and how we might allow better people to be put into Maricopa County government.